VBox7 logo

Fatigue, burnout, suicide: French police feel abandoned as weekly protests sap resources

2 22.07.2019 Инфо

M/S Police officers carrying injured colleague, Paris, May 1,2019
M/S Injured man being helped by officers, Paris, May 1, 2019
M/S Police officers walking another officer aside, Paris, May 1, 2019
M/S Police officers standing in front of broken window, Paris, May 1, 2019
M/S Stephanie (not her real name) walking into room and sitting down on bed
SOT, Stephanie (not her real name), Wife of gendarme working at Yellow Vest protests (French): "Fear, anxiety, stress, I sometimes cry because of these acts of extreme violence, more and more. When I watch him walk out, I always wonder if he will return, and in what state. This is what scares me."
W/S Police officers charge Yellow Vest protesters, Paris, January 12, 2019
SOT, Stephanie (not her real name), Wife of gendarme working at Yellow Vest protests (French): "I live with a ghost; currently I live with a ghost. I don’t see him anymore."
M/S Injured police officer limps, sits on ground, Paris, January 5, 2019
SOT, Stephanie (not her real name), Wife of gendarme working at Yellow Vest protests (French): "I’m worried about my husband. I’m scared that he has these kinds of thoughts without me noticing."
M/S Police officers trying to get back up on their motorbikes; Yellow Vests throwing projectiles and pushing down motorbike, Paris, December 22, 2018
M/S French Democratic Confederation of Labour sign and flyers, Paris
M/S Denis Jacob at desk and talking on phone
C/U Denis Jacob talking on phone
SOT, Denis Jacob, Secretary General of Alternative Police CFDT union (French): "There are a lot of factors that can lead to a suicide, but very often the straw that breaks the camel’s back is work. Why do the vast majority of our colleagues commit suicide in the work place? There is a link."
W/S Police officers charging towards Yellow Vests, Paris, February 2, 2019
M/S Police officers lined up with shields, Paris, March 22, 2019
SOT, Christelle Teixeira, President of the association "Uniforms in Danger" (French): "Yes, yes all the victims. All the cases I know about were related to work. And it all boils down to hierarchy, equipment, manpower, and acknowledgment. That’s it. And every day, it grows, the distress grows. And one day they can’t take it anymore."
M/S Protesters attacking police and throwing projectiles, Paris, June 14, 2016
SOT, Denis Jacob, Secretary General of Alternative Police CFDT union (French): "Suicide is an alarm bell that tells you that if someone isn’t physically rested, they can’t rest psychologically either. And this has brought us to this extreme situation we have been experiencing since the beginning of the year. 2019, I hope this stops; I have never seen in my career such consistency in suicides, in a short period of time within the national police. That’s unprecedented."
M/S Police throwing cannister, Paris, May 1, 2017
M/S Police officer standing with shields, Paris, February 2, 2019
SOT, Michel Thooris, Secretary General of the Syndicate France Police - Angry Police (French): "The national police is in a very complex situation, it is going through the worst crisis it has faced since the end of the Second World War. We have a series of missions that make the practice of police work extremely complex, more missions with limited resources, with huge pressure on our colleagues in terms of working hours. It is complicated to request holidays, they are always working."
M/S Police officers walking with shields and batons, Paris, September 15, 2016
M/S Police officers walking, Paris, September 15, 2016
SOT, Stephanie (not her real name), Wife of gendarme working in Yellow Vest protests (French): "From my point of view, they’re exhausted, they are experiencing burnout. Every day for three years, they are called all the time and sometimes for minor missions when they are maybe not necessarily needed."
M/S Injured police officer, Paris, December 1, 2018
SOT, Eric Roman, Member of Syndicate France Police - Angry Police (French): "Today, the French police are particularly exhausted after several weeks, and at this point months, of intense Yellow Vests demonstrations. These demonstrations have been particularly violent and the repression we’ve inflicted on demonstrators has been especially fierce."
M/S Police officers cornered against wall; Yellow Vests throwing projectiles, Paris, February 9, 2019
SOT, Denis Jacob, Secretary General of Alternative Police CFDT union (French): "Today, we maintain order through direct contact with protesters but we are not necessarily equipped for that. And unfortunately, accidents happen, like we have recently seen with flash balls. There is no taboo here. This equipment maybe needs to be readjusted, maybe in the amount of powder in the ammunition. Why not? So that it doesn’t hit as hard as it does now. Or to find another non-lethal equipment that is adapted to preserving the order with contact."
W/S Yellow Vests throwing smoke flare at police officers, Paris, January 12, 2019
SOT, Michel Thooris, Secretary General of the Syndicate France Police - Angry Police (French): "The government uses the national police force to political ends, as they refuse to respond to the political claims of the Yellow Vests. They use the national police simply as a tool with which to postpone a political deadline. Demonstration after demonstration, we see that more and more, there's an attempt to convert the conflict of the Yellow Vests into one between the national police, the national gendarmerie and the Yellow Vests."
W/S Police officers trying to push back Yellow Vests and spraying tear gas, Paris, January 5, 2019
SOT, Stephanie (not her real name), Wife of gendarme working in Yellow Vest protests (French): "Police forces are here to ensure safety in the country, and not to be beaten up. I’m against violence from either side but if the government doesn’t react, they won’t hold for long. It’s time to wake up. It’s not by engaging them again and again, that things will get better."
M/S Former French boxer Christophe Dettinger punching police officer in Paris on January 5, 2019
SOT, Denis Jacob, Secretary General of Alternative Police CFDT union (French): "There must be a political response and a fast one because officers aren’t punching bags. And to say 'we are mad at Macron so we get revenge on cops'. The police can’t take it anymore. They are not doing politics. They want this to stop. And for this to stop, we need a political response."
M/S Former French boxer Christophe Dettinger punching police officer in Paris on January 5, 2019
M/S Man walking towards police officer with pointed weapon; officer stepping back, Paris, May 1, 2017
SOT, Denis Jacob, Secretary General of Alternative Police CFDT union (French): "This is all the more true since the [terrorist] attacks. It’s a build-up of stress. The protest of the Yellow Vests isn’t the cause of the increase in suicides. It’s accumulated fatigue for four years. With these series of events, officers have had to postpone their days off, cancel their holidays or days off. Our colleagues don’t regularly get time to rest."
M/S Association of 'Mobilisation of Angry Police' walking with banner in honour of president of association Maggy Biskupski who committed suicide (French): "From up there, you watch over us. We are continuing the fight." Paris, March 13, 2019
M/S People carrying mock-up coffin, Paris, March 13, 2019
M/S Two men putting down mock-up coffin in front of French flag, Paris, March 13, 2019
M/S People gathered in honour of Maggy Biskupski and to raise awareness of police suicide, Paris March 12, 2019
M/S People gathered in honour of Maggy Biskupski and to raise awareness of police suicide; Eiffel Tower in background, Paris March 12, 2019
SOT, Michel Thooris, Secretary General of the Syndicate France Police - Angry Police (French): "Her [Maggy Biskupski's] suicide was extremely sudden and violent for us, because we absolutely did not anticipate it, we found out through the press. We talked to her days before that, and there was nothing that would have told us that she would have cracked and killed herself. I think that unfortunately, Maggy was so invested, psychologically, and was the receptacle that channelled all the frustration, sadness, discomfort, misfortunes of our colleagues."
SOT, Maggy Biskupski, former Leader of association of 'Mobilisation of Angry Police' (French): "The lack of colleagues, that's something that is difficult for us on a daily basis, because these terrorist attacks are becoming more and more violent. That's very difficult. The penal response is, at the same time, not sufficient. You arrest someone and then before you finished writing up the paperwork, the person is already out and you arrest this person again three days later for the same facts. It’s becoming really tiresome." Paris, September 16, 2017
M/S 'Angry Police Wives' marching, Paris, September 16, 2017
M/S 'Angry Police Wives' marching, Paris, September 16, 2017
M/S Cardboard police car with pink and black balloons during 'Angry Police Wives' march, Paris, September 16, 2017
M/S Men with t-shirts reading (French): "Uniforms in danger", Paris, September 16, 2017
M/S Stephanie (not her real name) scrolling her phone, Strasbourg
C/U Stephanie (not her real name) on her phone, Strasbourg
C/U Sheet (French): "Mutilation warning, population in danger; The badge of shame", Strasbourg
C/U Sheet (French): "Mutilation warning, population in danger; The badge of shame", Strasbourg
SOT, Stephanie (not her real name), Wife of gendarme working in Yellow Vest protests (French): "We also need to talk about the threats posted on social media. There are a lot of threats on social media, calls for killing police officers. As I said earlier, photos being posted, in order to find names, families, insults to children, and so on."
W/S Chalon-sur-Saone river view
M/S Melanie (not her real name) walking, Chalon-sur-Saone
W/S Melanie (not her real name) walking, Chalon-sur-Saone
M/S Melanie (not her real name) sitting by water, Chalon-sur-Saone
SOT, Melanie (not her real name), Wife of policeman (French): "My husband’s children have experienced bullying at school last year. 'Son of a cop, dirty son of a cop'."
M/S Police officers by fire, Paris, May 1, 2017
SOT, Melanie (not her real name), Wife of policeman (French): "My husband suffered from this, when people found out about his job. When they understood, he was attacked about two years ago, in front of his children. It is very difficult for me to deal with this, especially because his children were present. For a mundane problem, the guy cut him up on the road and it escalated. And he was beaten up."
M/S Injured police officer lying on ground surrounded by other officers, Paris, June 14, 2016
SOT, Melanie (not her real name), Wife of policeman (French): "Because he is a police officer. But he wasn't on duty. He was just on his way to pick up his children from school."
M/S Police officers backing away with shields; smoke, Paris, May 1, 2016
SOT, Melanie (not her real name), Wife of policeman (French): "They knew he was a cop because they saw his service weapon when he moved."
C/U Police officers standing in smoke, Paris, May 1, 2016
SOT, Melanie (not her real name), Wife of policeman (French): "He slowly got better but he still suffers from the consequences [of this attack] today. He has pains. There are many things. He still needs medical attention. And still, in comparison with others, he was somehow lucky."
W/S Police officers standing by Yellow Vests, Paris, May 1, 2016
SOT, Denis Jacob, Secretary General of Alternative Police CFDT union (French): "This can be seen as weakness, a shame, so if we confess that we are suffering from depression somehow it means that the person doesn’t have the psychological capacity to be an officer. For that reason it’s really difficult to detect."
M/S Projectiles and smoke flare thrown at police, Paris, September 15, 2016
SOT, Eric Roman, Member of Syndicate France Police - Angry Police (French): "I attended the funeral of a colleague who committed suicide. It's still hard, we always suffer. And this especially. You talk with other co-workers, but it leaves a mark, it’s an event that leaves its mark in a life. You always wonder what you missed, what you could have done."
W/S Yellow Vests attacking cardboard wall, Paris, February 9, 2019
M/S Police officers walking by wall with shields, Paris, February 9, 2019
SOT, Melanie (not her real name), Wife of policeman (French): "[What we want] it is more support for our husbands, especially in the riot police. Those guys are always in the field. So, more support, for them not to be systematically stigmatised when they are intervening somewhere, and not always be considered guilty."
M/S Police officers standing with shields; fire, Paris, February 2, 2019
SOT, Denis Jacob, Secretary General of Alternative Police CFDT union (French): "They [the government’s responses] are insufficient because once again when we know that working conditions are an important element which leads to suicide; we can’t handle these issues by signing an agreement or giving money."
M/S Police officers on fire, Paris, May 1, 2017
SOT, Eric Roman, Member of Syndicate France Police - Angry Police (French): "If we keep going like this, it [the number of suicides] will be four times higher than last year. It’s impossible to keep going like this."
M/S Police officers pushing down man
M/S Police officer spraying tear gas on Yellow Vest, Paris, December 1, 2018
SOT, Denis Jacob, Secretary General of Alternative Police CFDT union (French): "We cannot accept it anymore, I mean we never accepted it, we cannot stand anymore to see a colleague kill himself every second day. It's not possible."
W/S Firebomb thrown at police, Paris, May 1, 2017
M/S Smoke flare exploding next to police officers, Paris, May 1, 2016
W/S Police officers charging at Yellow Vests, February 2, 2019
M/S Police officers walking with injured man, Paris, March 22, 2018
M/S Protesters screaming at police officers, Paris, June 15, 2016
W/S Police officers walking on smoky street
SCRIPT
“Fear, anxiety and stress. I sometimes cry because of these acts of extreme violence.”
This is how Stephanie, the wife of a French gendarme who lives near the city of Strasbourg, describes her emotions whenever her husband is deployed to help police Yellow Vest protests. That’s despite her spouse being a seasoned officer with over three decades of experience.
Stephanie, who has withheld her real name, said "I’m scared that he has these thoughts without me noticing," alluding to the growing suicide rate among French police officers.
Police unions have called out the intense pressure and stress the officers have been put through over the past 10 months as Yellow Vest protests have gripped the country.
They say gruelling hours and poor working conditions are among the reasons behind a spike in the number of officers taking their own lives.
Between January and July this year, there have been 40 police suicides – a sharp increase from the 33 incidents reported for the whole of 2018, according to France's “Movement of Angry Police Officers" (MPC).
And it's a trend that has families stressing about what their loved ones are going through when they are deployed to protest situations.
“When I watch him walk out, I always wonder if he will return, and in what state. It’s really scary,” says Stephanie.
The secretary general of the Alternative Police (CFDT) union, Denis Jacob, said he believes there is likely a multitude of reasons why officers might take their own lives, but that the nature of the workplace appears to be a key component.
“There are many factors that can lead to suicide,’’ he said, adding that, “the straw that breaks the camel’s back is work. Why have the vast majority of our colleagues committed suicide in the workplace?”
According to the president of the Uniforms in Danger association, Christelle Teixeira, it boils down to a lack of “equipment, manpower and acknowledgment,” and “every day, it grows, the distress grows … and one day they can’t do it anymore.”
A French Senate report published in 2018 pointed out that the police suicide rate in France is 36 percent higher than the general average.
Denis Jacob explained that the French police have been experiencing a build-up of stress since a spate of deadly terrorist attacks in France began back in 2015 and a subsequent state of emergency was introduced throughout the country.
“The protest of the Yellow Vests isn't the cause of the increase in suicides,” he said. “It’s accumulated fatigue for four years. With these series of events, officers have had to postpone their days off, cancel their holidays or days off. Our colleagues don’t regularly get time to rest.”
Stephanie describes the level of exhaustion among her husband’s colleagues as “burnout.”
"Every day for three years, they’re called all the time and sometimes for minor missions when they are not necessarily needed.”
Police unions and families fear their concerns are not being heard.
According to Michel Thooris, the secretary general for police syndicate Policiers en Colere, the officers are being used as part of a diversionary tactic, as the Yellow Vest movement continues to vent its anger around the country.
“They use the national police force for political ends, as they refuse to respond to the political claims of the Yellow Vests. They use the national police simply as a tool with which to postpone a political deadline. Demonstration after demonstration, we see that more and more, there’s an attempt to convert the conflict of the Yellow Vests into one between the national police, the gendarmerie and the Yellow Vests.”
Yellow Vest protests started back in November last year against a rise in the fuel tax, but quickly turned into a nationwide stand against the government. What has become one of the longest and most violent social protest movements in modern France has seen thousands of injuries on both sides.
While Eric Roman, Member of Syndicate France Police - Angry Police, acknowledges that the "’repression' inflicted on demonstrators has been particularly fierce,” other police representatives say the response must be a political one.
Denis Jacob said he believes police officers should stop bearing the brunt for President Emmanuel Macron, who, he said, must now find a political solution to end the protests.
“We are mad at Macron, so we get revenge on cops,” Jacob said, explaining the position of the protesters. “The police can’t take it anymore," he continued. “For this to stop we need a political response fast."
Ruptly has reached out to the French Interior Ministry and police but has not yet received a comment.
Families of the officers also claim stigmatisation of the police is a contributing factor to the number of suicides. This is the reason both Stephanie and Melanie, the wife of another officer who has also withheld her real name, asked Ruptly to conceal their faces during our interviews. Another reason is that they wish to avoid any harassment of their family and especially of their children. Melanie shared with us how her husband was assaulted in front of their children, simply because the attackers knew he was a police officer. Stephanie highlighted threats on social media, including calls to 'kill' police and a witch hunt to find out officers' names.
Stephanie held a printed image of a police badge with an inscription above reading "Mutilation warning, population in danger; The badge of shame." She found the materials online, evidence of the hostility from some towards the French police.
In May this year, the French government opened a Suicide Prevention Unit, with the Interior Minister Christophe Castaner describing it as a move to “break the fear,” “break the shame” and “break the silence,” while addressing the French press.
This comes seven months after Castaner tweeted his sorrow at the death of an officer and high-profile activist, Maggy Biskupski. She committed suicide, reportedly with her own service weapon, after years of fighting against the stigmatisation of police, the anger directed towards them and the increasing rate of suicide in their ranks.
Ruptly spoke to Biskupski back in 2017 about the challenges facing the police.
“The lack of colleagues is something that is difficult for us on a daily basis,” she said.
And families and unions believe the problem of understaffing still remains.
"What we want is more support for our husbands, especially in the riot police,” Stephanie said.
Eric Roman fears that "if we keep going like this, the number of suicides this year will be four times higher than last year’s. It’s impossible to keep going.” Denis Jacob concluded, “we can’t stand it anymore.”